At their August 16, 2021 meeting the Atlanta City Council unanimously voted to approve the removal of the Lion of Atlanta statue from Oakland Cemetery as “necessary and appropriate for the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the monument.” The Lion was removed on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, under the direction of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Since Fall 2019, despite increased security at Oakland Cemetery, the Lion of Atlanta monument has been repeatedly vandalized. The City Council’s decision was in response to this continued vandalism.
About the Lion of Atlanta:
Though the Lion of Atlanta was installed to mark the graves of unknown Confederate dead, both the timing of its installation and the themes found in its design indicate that it also serves as a monument to the Confederacy. The Lion was erected in 1894 when white Southerners were well into the process of dismantling Reconstruction-era integration laws. It was modeled after the famous Lion of Lucerne monument, except that the mortally wounded lion protects a Confederate flag instead of the shields of the French monarchy and the Swiss coat of arms. In the Lion’s dedication ceremony, speakers declared that the “sacred” cause for which the soldiers fought was that of “righteousness and truth,” and that the war was fought over states’ rights to secede (as opposed to being fought over the right to maintain racial hierarchies, as detailed in Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ infamous 1862 “Cornerstone Speech”). Speakers described the outcome of the Civil War as “disastrous peace,” condemned the north “with its growing jealousy of power…its fanatical antagonism of slavery,” denied that the Confederacy was guilty of treason, and proclaimed that “the principles for which you fought and your comrades fell are not ‘lost’ and can never die. They stand today with renewed strength.”
Who owns the Lion of Atlanta?
The Lion of Atlanta is part of the City of Atlanta’s art collection under the care of the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. While Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF)is a private nonprofit whose mission is to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery in partnership with the City of Atlanta, Oakland Cemetery is a public City of Atlanta park and is ultimately under the care and jurisdiction of the City of Atlanta. The Confederate Burial Grounds and the area’s corresponding monuments are excluded from those sections overseen by Historic Oakland Foundation.
What will you see when you next visit Oakland Cemetery and Lion Square?
The City of Atlanta grounds crew, under the direction of the Cemetery’s sexton, has already begun making the area where the Lion stood safe for visitors. HOF will work with the Atlanta History Center and Civil War and southern history scholars to install a new interpretive sign to educate visitors about the soldiers buried in Lion Square. Additionally, HOF will also install interpretive panels in the Cemetery’s other two mass burial areas (North Public Grounds and Potter’s Field) to further educate visitors about these “open” areas of Oakland.
How does HOF approach the history of the Civil War?
The Civil War plays an important role in the story of Oakland Cemetery, not only in its significance in the history of our city, our region, and our nation, but also in the presence of nearly 7,000 Confederate soldiers, 16 union soldiers, and countless enslaved and formerly enslaved residents. HOF will continue to interpret the Civil War in its educational programs (including tours, special events, and educational programs) while reaffirming its commitment to serving visitors with content that is based on current historical research, in line with best practices in the field of museums and historic sites, and grounded in a commitment to the ethical, equitable, and accurate public interpretation of our history.
Dialogue and debate are important for civil discourse as Atlanta continues to wrestle with its history and its history’s meaning. This is a vital, ongoing process for a vibrant civil society; it helps form a deeper, richer understanding of who we are and the values we decide to uplift or de-emphasize. Historic Oakland Foundation wants the families of those buried at Oakland and visitors to Oakland to feel welcome and safe. We are committed to providing a space for our city to hold difficult conversations as we work collectively to form a more beloved community.
Where can I go to find out more?
For additional information about the Lion of Atlanta, the Confederate Obelisk, or about their ownership and care, visit https://oaklandcemetery.com/frequently-asked-questions-about-confederate-monuments-and-vandalism-at-oakland/.
HOF also recommends the following print and digital resources for those interested in understanding the evolving debate over confederate monuments in the United States:
- Clinton, Catherine, W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Karen L. Cox, Gary W. Gallagher and Nell Irvin Painter. Confederate Statues and Memorialization. University of Georgia, 2019.
- Cox, Karen L. Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2019.
- “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy” Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/whose-heritage
- Bunch III, Lonnie G. “Putting White Supremacy on a Pedestal.” National Museum of African American History and Culture. March 7, 2018. https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/putting-white-supremacy-pedestal.
- “Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide.” Atlanta History Center. November 17, 2020. https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/learning-and-research/projects-initiatives/confederate-monument-interpretation-guide/